There is a lot not to like about the 75,000 L-1 visas our government grants each year.
By allowing international companies to bring workers in from third-world countries for up to seven years, L-1s favor big multinationals over smaller domestic companies, distort regional job markets (fewer jobs, lower pay for some Americans), and make it possible to set up third-world sweatshops right here on American soil.
But how significant are these concerns? How much advantage does it give large companies? Are those lost jobs made up in other ways like allowing tech companies to do their work from here? And how prevalent are those sweatshops?
In central Pennsylvania, software wunderkind Charlie Crystle describes the concerns as not just significant, but devastating as well. He writes:
… Tata, D&T, Infosys, and others abused the VISA system and used the L-1 VISA to import programmers at homeland wages, putting them up 15 to a house with sleeping bags and computers …
So no, the local firms got their asses handed to them by these practices, and created a class of under-employed tech workers. Central PA's tech economy was gutted by this.
- abused imported workers (terrible living conditions, fast-food wages)
- gutted tech services economy
- underemployed techies
- lower local tax revenues
- and insulting arguments that local companies weren't competitive. They were shafted.
But an actual worker in those programs, Jayasimhan, countered with an on-the-ground assessment:
… part of this argument is an exaggeration. Here is why.
Neither I nor any of the friends I know live with 15 in a house. If you have seen such houses, it's most probably these kids are socializing. I say kids because they're mostly 25 or less. … What I've seen as the strength of these 'imported' programmers is that they are very flexible. In learning. In working extended hours. In helping each other. In doing what the company needs. These things come naturally to them. Maybe because it is the opportunity of a lifetime. If the U.S. wants to insource, the companies need to groom their people.
A worker negatively affected by the L-1, which Crystle implies he was, obviously will see the L-1’s weaknesses as menacing, defeatist policy. But in the end, the L-1 developers I’ve met get paid pretty well and pay US taxes like the rest of us.
It does suck that they can’t easily switch jobs, and all the complex rules do make it so only big companies can realize the benefits.